What is Lacquer Finish? (Types, Advantages & Disadvantages)

Wood lacquer finish

One of the best characteristics of lacquer that makes it a highly desirable wood finish is its quick-drying property. If you don’t have the luxury of time to wait longer for your wood finish to dry, you should consider using lacquer. It has the fastest drying time among the different protective wood finishes. Thus, you can expect a significant improvement in your turnaround time if you use it. 

Lacquer takes around 15 minutes to dry at room temperature. Since it dries fast, you can finish applying the first coat and two additional coats in an hour. Other finishing products might take hours or even days to dry. Moreover, lacquer has other desirable properties like affordability, durability, user-friendly, and excellent appearance, making it an appealing option for wood finishing.

Different Types of Wood Lacquer Types

Lacquer consists of plant resins mixed with drying solvents. Besides, it comes in several types, and if it is your first-time using lacquer, it will be best to know these different types of lacquer wood finishes.

1) Nitrocellulose Lacquer

Nitrocellulose lacquer is a modern-day lacquer type introduced in the 1920s. Since its introduction, it quickly became the go-to finish for most musical instruments, including pianos, violins, and guitars. Moreover, it is an excellent metal coating and got widely used in the mid-1900s in the automotive industry. It also provides a high-gloss finish and has a more malleable feature than the typical lacquer.

This lacquer type comes with a reddish-amber hue as it ages. Thus, you can expect a lovely patina on some wood types you would finish with this type of lacquer. This reddish-amber tint, however, can also be unappealing on some wood types. Thus, it is not best for finishing lighter wood like ash or maple. Besides, this lacquer type crazes or cracks over time and cannot offer the best protection against chemicals, abrasions, and liquids.

2) Waterborne Lacquer

Waterborne lacquer consists of a different composition from other lacquer types; thus, it behaves differently. It also carries fewer hazardous chemicals. Furthermore, it is more eco-friendly than other lacquer finishes. However, it is more susceptible to wear and tear over time than acrylic lacquer.  

3) Acrylic Lacquer

The increased use of unstained and light-colored woods like maple and birch engendered the invention of acrylic lacquer. Woodworkers, of course, do not want a lacquer that yellows over time. Thus, acrylic lacquer got developed in response to this growing demand for water-white lacquer. 

This lacquer type contains acrylic resins that remain crystal clear over time. At present, you can find various acrylic lacquer products, and one popular product is the CAB-acrylic lacquer. This lacquer consists of acrylic resins and cellulose acetate butyrate.

The CAB-acrylic lacquer allows for a less-brittle drying process that produces a more flexible film. However, this lacquer type is more costly than nitrocellulose lacquer. It will help to apply it using spray equipment. Dilute it with an ordinary lacquer thinner to get the perfect spraying viscosity. 

This lacquer type is quick drying. Besides, you can use this lacquer over colored pigment lacquers as a protective topcoat for added resistance against scratches and wear.  

3) Catalyzed Lacquer

Traditional lacquer types had solvents that slowed down the curing of lacquer. The lacquer only dries once the solvent evaporates. In the case of catalyzed lacquer, however, it contains chemicals (acids) that enable the lacquer to dry harder. Thus, it provides a more durable finish than other lacquer types that rely on evaporation.

You got two options when purchasing catalyzed lacquer: pre-catalyzed and post-catalyzed lacquers. Both catalyzed lacquers have shorter pot life depending on their catalytic component.

Those who manufacture pre-catalyzed lacquers either add the catalyst during the manufacturing process or when you purchase the item. On the other hand, when buying post-catalyzed lacquers, you need to buy a catalyst separately and mix them afterward. 

When mixing, ensure that you do it precisely and follow the exact ratio of components. Otherwise, your finish might end up improperly curing.

4) Urushiol Based Lacquer

If you study the chemical components of the wax tree resin or the lacquer tree resin, you will discover that it contains urushiol. This chemical is a highly active one in poison ivy and poison oak, and it causes rashes. Thus, lacquers made from this resin are usually urushiol-based lacquers. 

These lacquer type cures through polymerization and oxidation instead of chemical solvent evaporation. It gets used chiefly in finishing instruments, coffins, furniture, and other wood products. However, it gets rarely used in the United States. But in Eastern countries, it is often used in finishing wood items. 

Advantages of Using Lacquer on Wood

When choosing a wood finish, you often decide based on factors like drying time, user-friendliness, affordability, durability, and appearance. Thus, if you intend to use lacquer, it will be best to figure out how lacquer stack up against other wood finishes based on the abovementioned factors. It will also help to know the following advantages of the use of lacquer:

Lacquer is Easy to Apply and Quick Drying

One of the primary advantages of using lacquer is its ease of application. You will find it easy to apply, and it dries quickly. You don’t need to spend time waiting for the lacquer coat to dry. Within an hour of application, you can walk over the floor surface you’ve coated with lacquer. 

You don’t need elaborate rituals to apply this coat thoroughly. It will dry within fifteen minutes of application, and you can coat the wood surface with two additional coatings.

You Can Spray Lacquer Over the Wood Surface

Another excellent characteristic of lacquer is that you can spray it over the wood surface. Thus, it is easy to apply and user-friendly. Out of the container, you can use it with ease and spray it over the wood surface. 

Lacquer also generally doesn’t need any thinning. Nevertheless, you can also brush it on; it will go down flat with few or little visible marks. Besides, it is easy to clean up using lacquer thinner.

It is Easy to Recoat

Another advantage of lacquer is that you can recoat it without any problem. If the old coat has been scratched or has faded, you can recoat it without any issue. The new coat will quickly adhere to the old one, restoring the wood surface’s pleasant look. 

Nevertheless, it will be best to sand first the wood surface to remove scratches or dents. Cleaning and sanding, of course, demands effort and time. 

You Don’t Need to Apply More Coats of Lacquer

Using lacquer would require less coats to get the desired look and glossiness. With fewer coats, you will spend less on finishing your wood projects. You only need three coats to achieve the best results from using lacquer. Moreover, lacquer is less expensive than other finishes like varnish, polyurethane, or shellac.

To achieve the required glossiness, you only need to apply thin coats of lacquer. You can bring out the natural appeal of the wood grains with thin coats.

Disadvantages of Using Lacquer on Wood

You will never know if the lacquer is the perfect wood finish for your project if you only know the advantages of its use. Thus, it will help if you familiarize yourself likewise with the following disadvantages concomitant with its use.

It Has Low Resistance to Water, Chemicals, and Other Factors

Lacquer doesn’t exhibit high resistance to chemicals. It will change its colors if it gets in contact with salt, water, and other chemicals. Besides, it doesn’t show resistance to water and moisture. 

Thus, you can expect water to penetrate the wood fibers even if the wood surface gets finished with lacquer. Because of this, the wood will be susceptible to decay and deterioration.

Peels and Bubbles

You may not see this when you apply lacquer, but orange peelings and bubbles may show when the lacquer dries. These orange peels look like orange skin and are not pleasing to behold and feel rough. This formation of orange peels might be due to moving your spray gun fast, or it may also be due to too low room temperature. 

Bubbles, on the other hand, appear when the room temperature is warm. If the room temperature is too warm, the lacquer coat may dry quickly, trapping air underneath. This trapped air results in bubbles. To avoid this issue, you can further thin the lacquer using thinner.

The manifestation of such issues as orange peel or bubble should prompt you to discontinue your work and engage in test spray on scrap wood. Figure out the cause of the problem first before you go on finishing the wood surface.


Blushing usually happens if there is moisture within the airline because of high humidity. It might also occur if the room temperature is too cool. You will notice this blotching in the form of milky white blotches on the wood surface once the lacquer dries. You must correct this blushing because moisture will remain trapped inside the finish if you don’t do anything. 

Nevertheless, you can avoid blushing if you often inspect the airlines for the presence of moisture. Besides, it will be best to ensure the room temperature is well-regulated and well-ventilated.

It Might Show Fisheye

Another downside of the use of lacquer is it can produce fisheye. Contaminants on the wood surface or lacquer might cause this problem. Some contaminants include wood cleaners, oil, silicone, and other particles that lodge onto the lacquer. Thus, you must ensure you’re using clean equipment and uncontaminated lacquer. 

How Do You Differentiate Lacquer from Varnish?

You might mistake it for varnish if it is your first-time using lacquer. The reason is that the lacquer and varnish look the same and work almost the same. Both also provide a glossy and shy finish on the wood. 

Nevertheless, they have shades of differences that can help you decide whether to use varnish or lacquer on your project. Hence, it will be best to know the differences between these two types of wood finishes.

Varnish, for one, is a topcoat for wood. It consists of drying oil, resin, and solvent or thinner. Moreover, its transparent feature characterizes it. It also dries hard, protecting the wood with a tough finish. 

Varnish also exhibits sufficient glossiness and is remarkable for its durability. It resists physical damage and UV light. 

On the other hand, lacquer is solvent-based and dries quickly. It provides the wood with a glossy finish. Moreover, it gives a synthetic coating to wood because it contains shellac and alcohol solution. It can discolor over time and is susceptible to scratches or damage. Below is a comparative analysis of the lacquer and varnish to give you a clearer understanding of their differences:

Chemical Makeup of Lacquer and Varnish

Although the lacquer and varnish may look the same, they differ in their chemical makeup. On the one hand, the varnish constitutes drying oil, resin, and solvent or thinner. These ingredients provide the wood with a glossy finish and a tough protective coat. Besides, the varnish is nearly colorless, allowing you to apply it over the old wood stain. 

On the other hand, lacquer is solvent-based. It carries a shellac-in-alcohol solution that produces a synthetic coating that is resilient. Lacquer, therefore, is tough and is mildly resistant to some chemicals like alkalis and acids. 


Lacquer and varnish, as mentioned above, provide the wood surface with a glossy finish. However, their glossiness differs in intensity. Varnish, for one, offers a semi-glossy finish (sateen sheen). Conversely, Lacquer provides a more intense glossiness, ranging from ultra-matte to high gloss finish.


The lacquer and varnish offer a certain level of durability. However, the protection level each provides the wood differs. Lacquer, for example, shows high resistance to damage caused by alkalis, acids, and water. It is also resistant to damage like abrasions and cracks. Nevertheless, the lacquer finish might discolor over time and scratch over time. 

Besides, varnish offers a tough finish that is also resistant to damage and scratch. It also protects from UV light.

Chemical Effect

Lacquer and varnish might exhibit a significant chemical effect on other materials. Thus, when applying varnish or lacquer on wood, ensure that the wood doesn’t contain any materials attached to it that could be affected or could react chemically with these two finishes. For example, the rubber head of tools might get affected by the lacquer or varnish, causing it to stain.


You usually apply varnish using a brush or a cloth in several layers for extra protection. On the other hand, lacquer is spread thinly on wood using a sprayer. It also dries quickly. You can also apply again the lacquer over time if the old layer begins to discolor or fade. 


Among your best wood finishing options are varnish, polyurethane, shellac, oil stain, and lacquer. Your choice, however, should depend, as mentioned above, on essential factors like drying time, durability, appearance, affordability, and ease of application. If your primary concern is a quick-drying finish, go for a lacquer finish. 

Lacquer, of course, is one of the primary options for finishing wood furniture. High-end furniture manufacturers use lacquer in finishing their furniture. Nevertheless, before deciding in favor of the lacquer, ensure you understand the downsides of its use. This way, you can choose wisely whether the lacquer finish is the best for your wood projects. 

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